FELIX FRANCIS KATIE
Army officers serving in the troubled Equatorian region of Maridi have committed to respecting and promoting the human rights of all citizens during a training session provided by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
The two-day training was provided to 40 officers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to inform them about how to carry out their duties according to the rule of law, code of military justice and the right to freedom of expression.
At the end of the session, the group made a series of resolutions, including committing to combating hate speech, which incites people to commit violence against others.
“They committed to teaching their subordinates about these issues and to preventing looting of civilians’ property or harming others through torture and other forms of violence,” said UNMISS human rights officer, Albert Maurice Mugabushaka. “They said that any arrest made by SPLA should be legal according to the law and that they will facilitate access for humanitarians wherever it is needed.”
Commander of the 6th Infantry Division in Maridi, Major General Keer Kiir Keer, urged his officers to commit to the resolutions in order to transform the army.
“It is our duty to work together to organize a good force by transforming from a guerrilla army to conventional army,” he said. “So I am advising all of you to commit to the resolutions and act on them, rather than putting them away in your pocket”.
There have been many reports of human rights abuses by SPLA officers since the civil war in South Sudan broke out in 2013.
The Maridi Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement, Body Michael, said the UNMISS training was therefore vital because it would help integrate respect for human rights into the armed forces.
“The community have been blaming the government for some of their activities so I am happy you have talked about it and you are going to change,” he told the officers at the training session. “Looting will not be there again. When you arrest somebody, whether he is a soldier or a civilian, please don’t torture, don’t burn houses, and stop raping.”
Body Michael said that the soldiers must respect the resolutions because the eyes of the community and international community were on them.
The Governor of Maridi, Africano Mande, presided over the training session, which he describes as a way of showing “love to the country”.
“A number of times we have looked at each other as competing partners in the same space. A number of times we have looked at each other as the problem and, for a very long time, instead of us looking at each other in the eyes and trying to address the problem, we have participated in accusing each other in one way or the other,” he said. “But I want to assure you all that, despite this, the most important thing is that we all have got good intentions for this country”.
Governor Mande also encouraged the troops, the UN peacekeepers, and the community to engage with each other more often in a relaxed environment to ease tensions and build confidence and trust, such as playing sports or organising other social activities.